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Actually Teaching

That is what I’m doing. Actually Teaching, with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Penny”! [I hope my parents are proud of me right now for that Music Man reference…] Anyways, I was rereading my first two posts and becoming annoyed with my writing style. Last week I had trouble with content. This week I have a ton of things to write, but I’m bothered by how I’ll probably write them. You could say this process is interesting. I’m having a lot of thoughts.

On Monday I had my first small group of students. I was alone with them in a classroom. I felt fairly out of place. Aren’t I the student? Where are the people I’ll sit next to? Should I make it look like I’m doing something while I stand as opposed to waiting awkwardly for the students to arrive? The students entered and I asked them to help me put the desks in a circle.

The English teacher said she will always have something prepared for me, but I can do whatever I want. If I prepare something else, that’s totally fine. She is very laid back. Which is nice for me, someone who likes to be in control. She gave me a worksheet for the students, and as it was the first day and I had no idea what I would be doing, I used it. First, though, I would lay down the law of my classroom: Be Respectful, If You Misbehave I’ll Send You Back To Class, Find Something You Enjoy About What We’re Doing. I got the most pleasure from telling them this last one. The line I rattled off with all of my groups: “I know you all have lists of a bajillion things you don’t like about school,”—here I listed some things to connect with them, to show them I was a student once too (I still am)—“but my challenge for you is to find something you enjoy.” Sometimes I pleaded with them: ANYthing! But I kept it cool. I think it worked. Unclear with this class because they are not in the bilingual program. The difference between them and the students in the bilingual program is striking.

We went around talking about which words on the handout refer to appearance and which refer to personality: tall, balding, intelligent, moody, to name a few. They eventually wrote down sentences describing themselves. I had them swap papers with the person next to them and introduce each other. This way they would read “I am tall” but have to alter the sentence to say aloud “she is tall.” Improvising seems to be crucial in the classroom. When I mentioned the Be Respectful “rule” to this class, one student rolled her eyes. That alarmed me. I didn’t expect to encounter resistance so soon. I didn’t expect to have to put aside my personal feelings so soon. Luckily that was the only obvious instance of disinterest. The teacher told me the students were “very happy” after class. I was surprised. Pleasantly.

In my Bachillerato Advanced English courses, I decided to make a TON of work for myself and create a blog for each of my two classes. I cannot pinpoint exactly when this thought occurred to me or when I began to make the blog, but I worked hard on it and felt amazing when I showed my creation to the students. First I announced the idea to the class as a whole. “We’re going to have a class blog!” I said that with a lot of enthusiasm, I promise. Most reacted with excitement. I think there was maybe one student I remember looking a bit apprehensive. But I plowed ahead and voila! A blog was born. Without Judy Garland, unfortunately.

This past Wednesday was the day to show the students the site. I planned to see all of the students in mini groups as opposed to explaining the blog to the entire class. The blog has guidelines and questions to prompt the different kinds of posts they can write. I had students read aloud the homepage, but sped through everything in order to see the whole class in 55 minutes. The day before it occurred to me that maybe I should bring them some candy. I always loved when my teachers did that and I won’t see them the week of Halloween for a school holiday so…chocolate come to me! I theorized that I could classically condition them. After debating when to give the chocolate—at the beginning, in the middle, at the end—I decided that the end made perfect sense. After I virtually walked them through the blog and told them they would have to post aka write at least once a week, I gave them candy! Now they know: blog = candy, right? Pavlov would approve for certain.

I felt incredible. I was excited about it, so the students were excited about it. When they entered I told them energetically to take a seat quickly because I had to kick them out in “literally 5 minutes.” They fed off my enthusiasm and were focused and quiet and excited which I know I said already but I could sense it. I want to hold on to that feeling. It will be hard to achieve it all the time, but I will try, because there’s nothing like it. I asserted myself as an enthusiastic, caring, cool (I hope) teacher. The head teacher of the class told me after that they too were all very happy. She told me one of the students said I’m “very prepared” and “we are very lucky to have her as our assistant this year.”  The kid who said that apparently always acts like he knows everything and has no interest in classwork. He was wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers sweatshirt and so I took that as my opportunity to engage with him. “I can’t believe you’re wearing that! You know I’m a Warriors fan!” [this was in my Intro to Penny PowerPoint]. He just smiled and then I did too.

Here are some photos that have nothing to do with the content of this post and everything to do with my current life in Madrid.

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Una calle de Madrid


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Surprise hot air balloons over the Palacio Real de Aranjuez


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